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Forever Plaid – Upstairs at the Gatehouse, London

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman 

Writer: Stuart Ross

Director: John Plews

The male close harmony groups of the 1950s, all doo-wop and blazers, were all but killed off by rock and roll. Literally, in the case of Forever Plaid, the fictional group at the heart of Stuart Ross’s comedic revue. This New Jersey quartet were killed in a vehicular collision with a coachload of schoolgirls on their way to scream at the Beatles on their Ed Sullivan Show debut.

Before they ascend to heaven, the foursome have the opportunity to perform the final concert they never got to – the literal show of their lifetime. There’s not much in the way of plot beyond that, but that gives room for a plethora of standards from the era.

Director John Plews elicits some fine comedic performances from his onstage quartet, particularly some subtle work from Christopher Short as the deep-voiced Smudge, one step behind on the dances and often confusing left from right.

Vocal performances are strong from all four, most especially Cameron Burt’s Frankie, the charismatic leader of the group. George Crawford and Alexander Zane also both delight, their roles as stepbrothers Jinx and Sparky getting the bulk of what passes for character back story as they reminisce about watching Ed Sullivan together as children, a brief respite of calm from a tumultuous family background.

An attempt to recreate the whole gamut of variety acts that Sullivan would have on his show in just three minutes, a Reduced Shakespeare Company-style romp through jugglers, flamenco dancers and animal acts, has its slapdash charms, but Forever Plaid is at its best when playing it straight. Four men in close harmony, standing behind microphones or sitting on stools, their performances enhanced by musical director Ian Oakley and double bassist Jess Martin.

Such groups’ legacy did not end with the Beatles – a group that Forever Plaid see as a continuation of their tradition, rather than the disruptive, genre-changing force they would become. We see such groups’ heritage in the boybands from Westlife to BTS.

But for my money, there’s something special about the songbook of this era. Forever Plaid is a joyous celebration of fifties groups, and anybody looking for an uplifting return to fringe theatre could not make a better choice.

Continues until 27 June 2021

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A doo-wop delight

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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